Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer by this son of York.
In the opening soliloquy of Shakespeare’s Richard III, the doomed future king utters some of the English language’s most famous lines. As he muses upon his family’s recent seizure of the English crown, the sweetness of victory quickly curdles into bitterness. He is, he tells us, so deformed that dogs bark when he passes. He has no lover. He resents his brothers, and has resolved to set them against each other. It’s not hard to tell that this story will end badly, as it did—in real life—in the Battle of Bosworth Field, one morning in the late English summer of 1485.
This was the end of the Plantagenet dynasty’s supremacy, a critical moment in English history that opened the way for the rise of Tudor monarchs, culminating in the reigns of Henry VIII and his daughters, Bloody Mary and Elizabeth I. But although the word “Bosworth” evokes one of Britain’s bloodier moments, it’s also the name of a simple yet beguiling biscuit traditionally shaped into a knot or a letter S.
The story—which, alas, has no support to speak of from historians—goes that the recipe was found on the battlefield in Leicestershire. One not-especially-reliable version, according to author Andrew Webb in his book Food Brittania (Random House, 2012) is that it was pried from the “cold, dead hands” of Richard’s chef. Alas, Richard’s chef was almost certainly incapable of reading, let alone writing, and the ingredients are so few and the method so straight forward that the apocryphal chef could easily have learned them off by heart.
Let us not let the facts get in the way of a good story, and instead set to baking a batch of jumbles—the name, Webb suggests, derives from gemel, the Latin for “twin”. They are quite plain by themselves and benefit from a little lemon icing, a sweet-and-sour touch that the fanciful among us might think mirrors Richard’s mood at the opening of the play. While they’re in the oven, dial up YouTube and look for Sir Laurence Olivier’s compelling 1955 take on the “winter of discontent” speech. By the time he’s done, your jumbles will be, too.
- Heat the oven to 175C fan-forced and line a baking tray with baking paper.
- Weigh the sugar into the Thermomix bowl and add the lemon zest; it should weigh about 5 grams. Blend 20 seconds/speed 8.
- Add the butter, self-raising flour and rice flour to the bowl. Mix 5 seconds/speed 5.
- Add the egg and mix 10 seconds/speed 7.
- Tip the mixture out on a lightly floured work surface and knead together quickly and lightly. Form the dough into a roll and divide into 24 even pieces.
- Working a few at a time, form each piece into a ball, then quickly roll into a log about 12 centimetres long—the dough is quite soft, so keep the rest in the fridge while you work.
- Taper the ends then form each log into an ‘S’ shape, leaving space between each arm of the ‘S’ to allow for expansion during baking. Transfer to the baking tray and re-shape a little if need be—try to make sure that each crosswise section of the ‘S’ is horizontal to the tray to ensure well shaped biscuits.
- Bake the biscuits in the centre of the oven for 15–18 minutes, they should be pale brown.
- Transfer the biscuits to a wire cooling rack, then prepare the icing.
- Place the biscuits back on the baking tray, it’s fine if they are still a little warm, and spoon the icing over them. The icing should just coat the biscuits but not mask them completely.
Mix 10 seconds/speed 4. Test the mixture on one biscuit to make sure it coats properly; icing sugars vary and 10 grams more may be needed.